Reading Penny Arcade was just something that was done as someone who loved videogames, and though I had never gotten involved with tabletop, wargaming or various nerdy (and I use that term lovingly) card games, there was a great deal of representation for my preferred gaming poison.
I loved the idea of those other kinds, but there was always a level of inaccessibility to them for me – I never got involved with them in high school, which meant the list of people I knew who did was a few players short of … having players. Videogames though didn’t have the same entry-level barriers for me. I had a computer (and often consoles), and buying the game was all that was needed. Didn’t need other players, or to really understand the rules for something that was pretty intuitive.
Reading Penny Arcade was just something that was done as someone who loved videogames, and though I had never gotten involved with tabletop, wargaming or various nerdy (and I use that term lovingly) card games, there was a great deal of representation for my preferred gaming poison. I loved the idea of those other kinds, but there was always a level of inaccessibility to them for me – I never got involved with them in high school, which meant the list of people I knew who did was a few players short of … having players. Videogames though didn’t have the same entry-level barriers for me. I had a computer (and often consoles), and buying the game was all that was needed. Didn’t need other players, or to really understand the rules for something that was pretty intuitive.
So yep, I read Penny Arcade, and I knew about PAX. When it came around to PAX *Australia* being announced, I was kind of gutted that it was going to be held in Melbourne, as other states have usually been a barrier to my attendance. Unbeknownst to me, a plan was underway.
From the moment the tickets first went on-sale, until the first week of June, my wife kept a secret. We would be going to PAX Australia in Melbourne, just I wouldn’t truly know anything about it until my birthday. It was tough seeing lots of people talking about it, tweeting about it and such in the lead-up to June, balancing jealousy and awe, but it’d soon change. We were going to Melbourne, and it was going to be awesome.
Our pass was for the saturday, which meant that unfortunately for us, we’d both be missing out on the Bioware panel that was hosted on the preceding Friday, and we are both absolute die-hard fans of Mass Effect, among other games. Interactions with some of the people I was looking forward to listening to meant I had a lead on some saturday panels that would fill more gaps than I knew existed, but in the meantime, there was a hell of a lot more at PAX for us to both get excited about.
In the lead-up to the event itself, I saw a lot of blog posts from people that were originally going to be panelists, that chose to withdraw for their own reasons. They’ve been involved with journalism over games and the games industry, and had more familiarity with the behaviour that happens at gaming events. There has been an undercurrent of reporting on game-cons that suggest these events can vary from projecting an aura of exclusivity, to being blatantly unwelcoming of anyone that isn’t a straight, white male in their teens or tweens.
It didn’t feel that way. Maybe that’s the majority at the events, and yes, almost every person in a PAX t-shirt or scarf I encountered in Melbourne and Sydney over the past two days also fit that description, but being there with me wife, the only part that felt at all tacky were the ‘cops’ at the Sennheiser booth (which was totally superflouous, as their interactive Daft Punk tablets were far cooler). That may not match the experience of everybody that attended.
You could really feel the passion that people had for gaming. There were areas for people to play consoles, both new and retro. There were boardgames, card games, computers, and an area for people to sit and play on their handhelds. Is there a person that either attended or followed PAX that HASN’T seen or heard the words “Street Pass” in the past week? I doubt it! This was more than just an exhibition of cool games and other gaming related shit, but a bonafide celebration of gaming and geekdom. There was no cause for lowering our heads and feeling embarrassed, because everyone was there for the same reason – we were gamers, and we love our respective games. I stood in queue for a panel besides some friendly TF2 lovers, and some guys that were playing the Penny Arcade card game on a tablet, and there was no shaming, or discounting of others. There was just acceptance, and appreciation that the sign that read “Welcome Home” rung true to so many of us.
As well as the demo of Saints Row 4, there were so many attractions. A phenomenal amount of space for the indie games, a few shops, places to try out various games (or at least see them), and for what would come to considered a very reasonable and very short queue, the ability to momentarily forget how to navigate 3D-space – yes, the Oculus Rift. I did get to try it, and while I don’t usually get any sort of motion sickness, I did find it a) cool but b) disorientating. It feels like the sort of thing that will get easier to play with in time, and it definitely does change the experience. It’s quite nice in that regard, but I think it’s something that will be for later, rather than right now. If you’ve used one a few times, maybe you’ve found it takes a little while to get used to. Still pretty breathtaking.
All up, there were three areas for panels, a large exhibition all, the PC gaming area, the console/tabletop/etc gaming area, the queue hall, and the expo hall. There was a lot to see and do, but it seemed to be the panels that consistently drew the largest crowds. Some of these were based around the Penny Arcade team, and there was a lot of presence from Microsoft with the Xbox One. The features that they presented were definitely improvements over what we have in the Xbox 360, but I still haven’t seen the drawcard of a game I desperately want to play – and nothing exclusive. There are games on the way that are must-plays for me, but I’m just not seeing the next level of gaming yet.
I’m sure that the killer game is on the way – it was a while before the 360 had a must-have for me, though at that stage I was just happy to go for something more rounded than the original Xbox. Nowadays, it feels like there needs to be something more.
All throughout the hall, and the rest of the grounds, were some brilliantly styled cosplayers, and even more regularly, groups of them that had covered a few of the various characters which mostly came from gaming. The Borderlands cast were the first that caught my eye as they walked past the SR4 queue, with a (thankfully mute) CL4P-TP. There were other great ones also, including a miniature Ezio, Legion, lots of LoL characters, Mario and friends, and so many more.
In the end, I only attended one panel. I could have attended the one before the one I went to, as I’d started queuing well in advance. I’d exhausted my curiosity and myself, and it was time to stand in one place while my phone continued dying a very slow death, and my extremities froze.
The Panel I attended was “That’s What She Said: Why Mainstream Media Portrayals of Gamers Matter”. It was thankfully devoid of the mainstream media, because I know they would have taken it all out of context. No, gamers do not have a positive image in the media – and while we believe it will change in time (from most commenters: when all the non-gamers die and younger crowds are introduced into gaming in positive ways. MSM version: Gamers threaten lives, plan to brainwash children), there is a question over what we can do in the meantime.
We do marginalise ourselves as gamers, both to our individual selves, and to other gamers. It’s potentially a product of the misfit/outcast nature of the hobby, in that it not being mainstream is both a reason to regard it as strange, but also a way to identify ourselves. I know (and have spoken about) how I haven’t quite fit in with a sport-focused society, and that games were an escape for me. I don’t need the fringe aspect for it to remain important to me, and I would personally find it fantastic if I could discuss games with random people as easily as they might bring up the cricket.
I understand why there is resistance, because we as people love our labels, and when you don’t fit in, you can claim a label like ‘weird’ as your own. It becomes part of your identity, and if it goes away, there’s nothing that separates you from the sports-geek at the pub, watching his team lose on a friday night. There’s great comfort in having your own place in society, no matter how small – and losing the fringe element could be seen as taking away where you feel you belong, or are at home. It takes a bit of faith to believe that society at large will be that place. Being ‘normal’ doesn’t make you any less special, if there’s even a normal to be had.
One of the best pieces of advice/commentary I’ve ever been given comes from PAX, and it’s a huge part of why I’m consciously trying to change how I am toward gaming, and toward my own self-acceptance. I have to paraphrase, but: “Nothing messes you up like having something that’s hugely important to you, but that you’re also ashamed of.” That came from Bioware’s Patrick Weekes, while talking to him after the panel. He’d related an anecdote about referring to a weekly D&D meetup as “Poker Night with the Boys”, because at some level, there was still a stigma attached to doing something geeky – and I’d had my own instance of it, with being very quiet about the fact that I am currently writing a Mass Effect fan-fiction story.
It’s time to embrace it, so we can show the world we’re not those sad, deranged loners training on our games to be serial killers. We’re real people, as normal as anything the non-gamers have to offer.
If you look at a calendar, the site, or whatever you want, PAX Australia is over. There’s people tweeting it, #PAXAus had ended and such, but at the moment it feels like there’s two versions of PAXAus. There felt like there was so much positive energy and goodwill around, that PAXAus wasn’t just a three day social experiment on queuing systems, but a state of mind. Acceptance from so many of us, to so many more. With a few exceptions, I’ve never felt as though I was really part of a “gaming community”, as I tended to just stick to myself and occassionally talk about it with others. That’s no longer the case. I want to be part of the spirit of gaming, to be positive, and get involved with gaming on a larger scale. That won’t manifest as competitive gaming (as I’m all kinds of terrible, all at once), but something.
If you attended, or if you’re a gamer, or if you just love the positive vibes that have come out of this, you’re now a friend by extension. Let’s continue this positive attitude until the next PAX Australia comes around in 2014, and we’re able to replenish our goodwill to others.
There’s a PAX in fiction that will be known to a lot of gamers – Firefly’s additive added to the air on Miranda, that inadvertently caused the Reavers. It sucks a ridiculous majority of the things you hear about in association with gamers are our Reavers, and not the quiet many who do get along, who are positive, and who are friendly, welcoming, accepting people. Can we do our best to change that? I hope so.
Last of all, I’d love to hear the most positive, uplifting story relating to gamers that you can think of. It might be a personal experience, whether it’s something that a gamer did for you, something game-related that made you feel welcome, or any positive game or gamer related experience you can come up with. If you’re a non-gamer, this is definitely okay.